Giving the Neighbors a Reason to Talk Since 2011 (Adventures in Garden Design)

Several years ago, we had some extensive sewer work done that tore up the front yard. In one part of a front bed, it left us with kind of an eight-inch cliff where the grass stopped and the front bed started. Not an ideal element for garden design. Here’s an old picture that kinda shows it:

garden design

It’s hard to see. But, anyway, because our house and yard sit up off the street, you can imagine a wee little cliff as the first thing people see when they walk by. Not pretty.

I could have just brought in a bunch of top soil, but the bed is edged by a retaining wall, and I’d have to grade carefully so the soil didn’t just wash away over the wall. I’m not sure I would make the grade (pun!) because maybe you’ve learned by now that “careful” isn’t one of my best qualities in terms of garden design. While I’m very thoughtful and careful at work (hi, Boss Lady!), I’m more of a “big picture” person when it comes to the yard.

So, when I saw an idea on Pinterest for a border made of wine bottles, I think I literally shouted, “Bingo!” and probably scared/scarred the dog a little bit.

It was a perfect solution to hide our cliff and add some pizazz to the garden design.

Initially I thought I’d just collect wine bottles as we … emptied them. A hitch to that plan, though, is we tend to drink boxed wine mostly. Yep, you read right. We actually really like a few boxed wines, with Black Box Merlot topping our list. We’ve tried some of the other Black Box varieties and are not as woo-hoo about them, but we also like the Bota Box Merlot and the Big House Red in a pinch. So there you have it: Proof from a real-live fancy pants chef that boxed wine is A-OK. Life is too short, man. Drink what you like.

Moving on. I reached out to friends and fam and while they were happy, as always, to help with my crazy plans, I calculated I needed approximately 80 bottles. Whoa! It soon became clear I’d need another bottle source if I wanted this done before 2018. Enter EDWINS Restaurant and the good folks there who saved bottles for me! (Thank you, Tashika!!!!)

I thought about just “planting” the bottles as-is with the labels, but I suspected they would get pretty groady before long, so I opted to remove the labels. The first step was soaking the bottles. I just put them in the kitchen sink, but any big container filled with water would work. I also filled the bottles up with water to weigh them down and keep them submerged. You’ll need to soak the bottles at least an hour, though longer is better – even overnight if you can.

garden design

Yep, that’s a snowman soap dispenser. Yep, it’s August. Keepin’ Christmas alive.

After soaking, some of the labels just unpeeled themselves, earning them a spot as my favorite wines. Shout out to the awesome vinters of Chateau Gonin Bordeaux 2010, Weinkelter Riesling Kabinett 2012, Joseph Drouhin Meursault Perrieres Premier Cru, and Sean Minor Caneros Pinot Noir 2012. I am sure your wine is outstanding, and your easy-peel labels are THE BEST.

Removing the labels from the rest of the bottles involved a little manual labor, but some of the bottles came with a handy tool that made it pretty easy: a screw cap! Yes! After wasting time with a metal scrubbie (technical term), I channeled my ancestral ape and used the screw cap as a scraper. It worked beautifully!

Some of the bottles still had glue residue; that’s when I found the metal scrubbie and some dish soap did the trick to take off that glue lickety split. You could certainly use something like Goof Off, but these are going near edible plants, so I wanted to keep it clean.

So, bottles in hand, I just stuck them in the ground and gave the neighbors a green light to speculate how we procured that many bottles.


That’s it, really. I did have to do a little digging to get some bottles in, as the soil is pretty clay-y, but it was pretty easy to zen out with this garden design project. I have one side/one bed done and am slowly working on the second side (the bed where the green beans live). I’ve already gotten tons of compliments on it from passersby, and I refer them (and you!) to Pinterest to check out the original posts I used for inspiration.

This blog offers up a thoughtful review and some points to consider before using wine bottles in your garden design, and I should note this is not a long-term solution for me, either. Next year, I plan to dig up, divide and likely rehome the perennial lilies and irises that live in these beds. I’ll probably decrease the size of the beds and keep things more manageable by by planting grass. Or maybe not.

I keep toying with the idea of tilling up all the grass in the front yard and going full-on, gratuitous, unapologetic cottage garden up in this mug. We’ll see how it shakes out, but for now I really like the look of the wine bottle border.


Don’t Forget the Crumpets and Jam: How to Make Compost Tea

I was able to sift another batch of compost from one of my tumblers, and while most of it went back into the Three Sisters bed and the former potato bed, I thought I’d reserve a bit and give a recipe on how to make compost tea a try. I once thought compost tea was some kind of super complicated, labor intensive recipe but turns out that when you’re trying to figure out how to make compost tea, it’s just mixing some compost and water. Who knew?

Here’s what you need:

  • some compost (store bought or homemade)
  • a container with a lid
  • water

I reviewed a couple of recipes for how to make compost tea, and most said to use something like a “shovelful” of compost. I don’t know how much that is, but I had an empty gallon pot handy, so I filled that halfway full and used that as my measuring cup.

how to make compost teaDump the compost into a five-gallon bucket or other big container:

how to make compost teaAdd some water:

how to make compost tea

Snap on a lid, set in a sunny spot and let it sit for a few days.

how to make compost teaNow, some folks will tell you to add sugar or molasses. Some folks will tell you to add seaweed. Some folks will tell you to add fish emulsion. Some folks will tell you to aerate it.  Sure! Why not? Go for it. All good stuff. But I’m taking shortcuts.

Case in point: Most of the directions said to strain off the solids and then pour the liquid compost around base of the plant, but it seems silly to me to go that extra step, so I’m just going to dump the compost tea in my watering can, compost and all.  By my calculations, it should be ready by Tuesday. Now you know how to make compost tea, so go enjoy a nice cuppa.


Like a Fine Vine

I went on a bit of a tear and harvested all the potatoes. I think we ended up with about 15 pounds all told, which is pretty darn good, I think. But as a by-product, I ended up with all the spent potato vines.

growing potatoes

Since the potatoes showed no signs of pests or disease (like blight or scab), I certainly could have put them in the compost, and that would have been fine. But I needed some kind of mulch for my zucchini patch, and I thought the potato vines were just the ticket.

Ordinarily, I really like using chopped up leaves as mulch. Two main reasons:  We have a ton of leaves, and, they decompose and add nutrients back into the soil. This is why I don’t just go buy bags of mulch at the store. In the short-term, I’m mulching, but my longer-term goal is to continue building a healthy soil.

But, keepin’ it real, I’ve been too lazy to mulch leaves. What I have been doing is laying down the naturally expiring leaves from the Brussels sprouts  over any weeds that have popped up as kind of a passive “mulch” since you can pretty much use any organic material as mulch, within reason. The Brussels sprouts leaves are the yellow things below.

growing potatoes

As a Brussels sprout plant matures, it tends to naturally shed the lower leaves. All things equal, this is normal and nothing to be alarmed about, as long as it’s sporadic and starts from the bottom. If it’s occurring all over the plant and you see evidence of bugs or other spots, there might be something sinister afoot.

growing potatoes

Still, with temps topping out near 100 F this week, I needed something more to help retain water and keep the soil cool, so I took the tangle of potato vines and arranged them artfully around the zuccis.

growing potatoes

P.S. the corn has grown from my belly button to my shoulders in a matter of a few days, so it’s something like 5 feet tall now!

That’s a hot mess, isn’t it? Guilty as charged. But the potato vines will eventually break down and add nutrients back into the soil. Plus, it’s a temporary solution, as when I get home I am going to chop some leaves for real mulch to go on top of this mess, hand to gourd.

Now, the disclaimers. When I asked the Google monsters if I could use potato vines as mulch, I got nothing. No articles on the subject, no ranty postings on obscure gardening forums, nada. So, using potato vines as mulch could be a huge no-no but, as with most of my yardening, I employed a little common sense, weighed the pros and cons, and went ahead with it anyway. Here were my considerations:

First of all, it’s always slightly dangerous to lay down uncomposed “green” material as a mulch, as the heat from the decomposition can literally burn the plants.  Read a ‘lil more about that here. But there’s a lot of air and space between the vines, so I figured it’d be safe in this case.

My logic told me that since tomatoes and potatoes are in the same family and susceptible to the same diseases and oogies,  just to be safe and to avoid spreading any pestilence, I should NOT use potato vines as mulch in an area with tomatoes, peppers or other nightshades. But zucchini and corn (and the few random lettuce plants in that bed) are all in different families, so the potato vines should, at best, be good for them or, at worst, be no big whoop. Probably.

So, there you have it – potato vine mulch. I’ll let you know if it’s a resounding success or if it wipes out the whole garden. My guess is probably somewhere in between.